I took my kids to the spray park at Beale Park in the Oleander neighborhood last week. Along with towels, sunscreen and folding chairs, I also brought my trash pickers and a trash bag. Sometimes while my kids are playing at the park, I pick up trash.

So on this day, as my kids were playing, I cleaned up a small radius around where we were seated. I picked up tiny bits of spent water balloons, clear plastic wrappers from juice box straws, cigarette butts, water bottle caps — the usual. There were several families around me, and they watched as I cleaned. One family had brought a whole watermelon and my daughter looked at them longingly. The man asked me if she could have a slice. “Yes, thank you,” I answered. When she was done, she put her rind in my trash bag.

The next morning, my friend Becky Ingle met me at the park to keep cleaning. So much trash had been piling up along the fence lines, around the shrubs and in the gutter along Palm Avenue, we decided to do something about it. There were no trash cans near the spray park area at Beale Park. A lot of people leave a trail of trash behind them when they leave the park. As I made my way down the sidewalk and gutter, I came to a torn paper sack and a pile of watermelon rinds. I knew instantly it had belonged to the family from the day before.

How is it possible that a family that actually saw me picking up trash at the park felt it was OK to leave their own garbage in the gutter before driving home?

I’m a lifelong Girl Scout and outdoorswoman. I practice a “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” lifestyle. This means, if I bring something somewhere, I leave with it — even if it is garbage. At the very least, I make sure I throw my garbage away in available trash cans.

Our parks are full of trash. I love visiting other cities and taking my kids to clean parks where I can play with them. But here in Bakersfield, when I take my kids to the park, I clean the park. I cannot watch my kids play in a dump.

Some might blame the city. Parks don’t have enough garbage cans. They also don’t have enough city workers to empty the garbage cans frequently enough that they don’t overflow and make a mess. Then we have people and critters who go through the garbage and pull it out, looking for recyclables and food. Don’t even get me started on the lack of recycling bins in public areas.

Once one piece of garbage is on the ground, people don’t think it’s a big deal if they leave their own trash. So the build-up begins. And then children are running through the park, dodging garbage — or even playing with it. At the spray park, I saw kids throwing a water-filled aluminum can like it was a football, filling plastic bags from the chicharrones vendor to dump water on each other and tossing Styrofoam cup pieces into the air to watch them float to the ground like feathers. Yes, the children were playing with the garbage.

So what can we do about this? Number one, practice pack-it-in, pack-it-out. If you bring garbage to the park, bring a garbage sack and take it home to your own waste bin. Number two, pick up some trash wherever you are, whenever you can. As the Girl Scouts teach, leave a place looking better than you found it. Number three, encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same.

Earlier this week, Bakersfield City Parks and Recreation staff placed three new trash cans near the spray park at Beale Park, at the request of City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, whom my friend Becky had notified about the trash problem there. But still, the lawns are littered with spent water balloons, straws and straw wrappers, bottle caps, and other microtrash. We can't blame anyone other than ourselves for trashing our parks.

I walk around my Oleander neighborhood every morning, very early. At 6 a.m. the day I took my kids to the spray park last week, I walked around Beale Park and took photos of the trash that had been accumulating along the fence line. A wayward young man with no shirt and his pants hanging off him jogged over to me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was sending the picture to my friends to see if they would help me clean up the trash.

“Oh, I’ll help you,” he said. “When are you going to do it?”

Anytime, I told him. You can clean up trash anytime.

Jennifer Burger, a former reporter for The Californian, teaches journalism courses at Cal State Bakersfield. The opinions expressed are her own.